The WTO in An Era of Preferential Trade Agreements: Thick and Thin Institutions in Global Trade Governance

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This article examines how fragmentation of the global trade regime into preferential agreements built on a multilateral baseline of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules affects trade governance. The analysis relies on 105 interviews with trade policy professionals in core WTO members and a conceptual distinction between 'thick' and 'thin' institutionalism to capture institutional changes in the global trade governance architecture. The WTO's thick institutionalism facilitates institutionalized interactions among members of the trade policy community that are essential for transparency and dialogue and the rule of law character of the trade regime. It secures the continued belief of trade policy professionals in the WTO's centrality in trade governance. The thin institutionalism of the network of preferential agreements spells the return to à la carte forms of trade governance and benefits those with the technical and political capacity to successfully navigate the fragmented governance architecture. Ongoing institutional transformations shift global trade governance away from rules-based, back to more power-based forms.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-526
Number of pages26
JournalWorld Trade Review
Issue number3
Early online date23 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

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